The House on Thursday afternoon approved legislation that would repeal a government board tasked with finding Medicare savings, and institute medical tort reform across the country.
Members approved H.R. 5, the Protecting Access to Healthcare (PATH) Act, by a 223-181 vote in which only seven Democrats supported the bill and 10 Republican opposed.
Democrats spent much of the week arguing against the GOP plan to pair up the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), something many Democrats supported, with tort reform, which most Democrats opposed.
In Wednesday's six-hour debate on the bill, several Democrats said they support IPAB repeal along with Republicans, because they fear the board could recommend Medicare cuts without having to gauge the opinion of Congress. But they chaffed at the tort reform language that, among other things, would impose a nationwide limit of $250,000 in punitive damages in medical lawsuits.
"I'm very disappointed that the Republican leadership has robbed many Democrats of their ability to vote cleanly on IPAB repeal, and have instead, yet again, politicized this body," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.). "When will you learn?"
Some Democrats who oppose the repeal of IPAB also spoke, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who said repealing the board would repeal a body that is looking for Medicare savings that both parties say is needed.
But Republicans noted that IPAB repeal has bipartisan support, and said tort reform is a much-needed addition to help control federal healthcare spending.
"The healthcare law failed to provide any meaningful reform to the broken and costly medical liability system, which is currently one of the largest cost drivers of our healthcare system," Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. "The current system is responsible for as much as $200 billion a year in unnecessary spending on defensive medicine."
President Obama, earlier this week, threatened to veto the legislation. The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.
The lengthy Wednesday discussion allowed House members to debate the 2010 healthcare law, which created the IPAB. While much of that debate revisited the well-known opposing positions of the two parties, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used the time to refute GOP arguments that the law is unconstitutional, and argue that the law actually helps promote all Americans' rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Pelosi explained that the law gives people the flexibility they need to pursue these goals, because it makes it easier for them to switch jobs in order to pursue their career or family goals.
"A healthier life, the liberty to pursue happiness, free of the constraints that lack of healthcare might provide to a family," she said. "If you want to be photographer, a writer, an artist, a musician, you can do so. If you what to start a business, if you want to change jobs, under the Affordable Care Act, you have that liberty to pursue your happiness."
Just before the final vote, House Republicans voted to strip language in the nonbinding "findings" section of the bill that apparently made Republicans nervous because it said the healthcare industry is part of interstate commerce that Congress has the right to regulate.
The language likely looked out of place to many Republicans, given the ongoing GOP argument that the 2010 healthcare law abused Congress's right to regulate interstate commerce by saying this right justified the law's so-called "individual mandate" to buy health insurance.
"Clearly, the House does not subscribe to the notion that the Commerce Clause bestows almost unlimited powers on Congress," Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (R-Ga.), the sponsor of the amendment, said Wednesday. "By eliminating the 'findings,' we eliminate any confusion."